IT is indeed commendable that the Govern¬≠ment has placed the Sabah Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) under the command of the Defence Ministry to further bolster our maritime security in Sabah waters: ‚ÄúSabah MMEA now under Mindef‚Äù (The Star, March 15).
Apart from the east coast of Sabah, which has approximately 1,400km of coastline, Malaysia is a maritime nation surrounded by waters in east, west and south and has to safeguard a total coastline of 4,490km.
Malaysia‚Äôs maritime zone is larger than the combined land masses of peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak with a total of 623,907 sq km.
Within this spectrum, Malaysia claims sovereignty over more than 800 islands.
In this sense, the contribution of the maritime sector to our national economic growth cannot be overstated.
Apart from revenue generated through oil and gas, fisheries and marine tourism, more than 90% of our international trade is ocean dependent.
As a consequence of this, security is paramount for national interest where the wide open marine environment is vulnerable to various risks and challenges.
It is not an easy task to secure the whole area with tight security measures in a similar manner as on land.
Policing water is not confined to water alone but is closely tied with land and air as well.
The biggest challenge now is the non-traditional threats, particularly the smuggling of goods, weapons, drugs, piracy and, most importantly, terrorism.
The sudden intrusion in Lahad Datu has triggered a great realisation that our waters are still porous and require serious and decisive attention at all times.
The decision to establish the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) as the Special Security Area is expected to further strengthen our maritime borders.
Nonetheless, in bolstering our total maritime security in view of the sizeable amount of water, this special area needs to be expended to other hotspots in future where the locations are deemed to be the breeding ground or transit point for illegal immigrants, human trafficking, smuggling of goods and weapons.
Overlooking such unlawful acts over time may lead to other major consequences that could threaten our national security and sovereignty.
For this, the MMEA, a para-military agency which shoulders the sole responsibility in maintaining coastal surveillance, can function effectively if the whole agency performs under the command of the Defence Ministry.
The security matter can be further strengthened if both enforcement and naval forces work hand in hand.
Nevertheless, the effective enforcement mechanism will not come cheap.
It requires better assets, equipment and manpower. Of course, all these involve a huge financial commitment.
With a well-planned strategy and coordination within government agencies and neighbouring countries, we are capable of maintaining law and order at sea.
Apart from the Special Security Area, the Government may also in future consider establishing a Maritime Affairs Ministry to take charge of all maritime-related matters for easy coordination and policy direction.
DR. G PERIASAMY